Laurie Capitelli and Sophie Hahn are facing off for the second time for the District 5 Council seat. Photos: Emilie Raguso

Incumbent Laurie Capitelli and challenger Sophie Hahn will face off in November for the second time in a pitched battle for Berkeley’s District 5 City Council seat, in a race that has been tinged with allegations of distortion and ill will.

In 2008, Capitelli won District 5 re-election by defeating Hahn 4,299 to 3,898. But Hahn said Wednesday she believes her past four years of service and experience will help her come out on top in the polls on Nov. 6.

“I have a strong record of getting things done,” she said. “I do believe one person can make a difference. With hard work, collaboration, and really listening to and involving the community, you get good results for the community. And I think people recognize that. I think people have been waiting for a long time for change in Berkeley.”

So far, both candidates have raised about $30,000 for their campaigns. Each had $14,000 to $15,000 left in their coffers as of the most recent filing. The amount of money raised is second only to the mayor’s race on the ballot in Berkeley.

District 5 is south of Kensington in north Berkeley, bounded by Albany to the west, Spruce Street on the east and Vine to the south. Map: City of Berkeley

Both candidates have a long history of public service. Capitelli, a local real estate agent, is capping off eight years on the council with a focus on “livable neighborhoods, safe streets and vibrant business districts.”

Hahn, who describes herself as a “full-time community leader,” has served on the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, examined exploitation and sex trafficking as chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, helped refurbish local libraries, and revitalized the King Middle School PTA.

Capitelli said Wednesday that he’s spent much of the past eight years working on neighborhood revitalization and simplifying zoning ordinances to make it easier for entrepreneurs. He pushed to suspend the restaurant quota on Solano Avenue. He worked to resurrect the neighborhood’s Business Improvement District. And he spearheaded an update of the city’s zoning rules to speed up and simplify the process for launching new businesses.

The incumbent, a nearly 40-year resident of the city, also said he surveyed more than a thousand businesses and residents in north Berkeley to find out their priorities. In response, Capitelli said he has worked to find money, through grants and other sources, to implement various changes on Solano, such as widening the sidewalks, improving lighting and planting street trees.

“Those are all things people said they wanted, and, by the end of the year, we’ll be well on our way to accomplishing that,” he said, adding that, if re-elected, he would like to duplicate these types of changes around the city.

Laurie Capitelli at Espresso Roma in north Berkeley on Oct. 10. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Hahn, a Berkeley native, said surveys are all well and good, but that she sees a need for much more outreach and community engagement than the district has had in the past. She said, as a council member, she would have regular meetings with neighborhood associations, and develop relationships with unions, under-represented residents and students. Around Solano, she said, she’d like to consult with neighbors, shoppers, merchants and property owners to come up with a common vision for the avenue to make it truly successful and attractive.

Hahn, a retired attorney, said her work as a leader in the PTA at King Middle School is one example of the community-building skills she would implement in District 5. The mother of three spent seven straight years as a middle school parent due to the ages of her children, all of whom are now teens. During that time she said she helped triple participation in the school email list-serve; increased fundraising by 500%; and developed a welcome fair, which became a model for other Berkeley schools, to ensure that all students had equal access to resources, services and activities.

She also pointed to her work on a city-wide Edible Gardens Initiative, to allow residents to sell and trade homegrown produce, as a sign of her approach to getting things done. After learning that Berkeley rules previously required an expensive permit that could take a year to obtain, Hahn said she created an organization and worked with a range of groups in the urban agriculture and sustainability movements to come up with a better way. The City Council ultimately changed the city code to allow residents to trade relatively freely without a permit.

Capitelli said environmental issues are a key part of his work as well. He said he made it a priority to ensure that the city’s Climate Action Plan was adopted with “doable and practical” goals to implement over time. He helped ensure that environmental standards for new buildings were included in the city’s plan for downtown. And, as a member of the Alameda County Transportation Commission, he said he’s fought to bring money into the city to use to encourage bicycle use and pedestrian-friendly measures.

District 5 candidate Sophie Hahn speaks with community members at Off the Grid. Photo: courtesy of the Hahn campaign

One clear area of disagreement between the candidates is Measure T, which seeks to change zoning in parts of West Berkeley and give some owners of property larger than four acres or one city block more flexibility in building, but also require them to offer more in community benefits. Over the next 10 years, Measure T would allow the property owners of six large sites to build, in places, up to 75 feet high. The average height, however, would be 50 feet.

Capitelli said he supports Measure T in part because West Berkeley has significantly underperformed as far as projected job growth; a city plan for West Berkeley from 1992 estimated that 2,000 manufacturing jobs would be created in the area by 2012, he said. Thus far, just 500 jobs have been created. Allowing for “somewhat denser” development over six areas would, he said, bring community benefits such as job training, subsidized housing and “jobs for the 21st century.”

Hahn said Measure T would result in a “significant up-zoning” of West Berkeley, and increase the property values for already identified landowners without locking in community benefits. (The Planning Commission is currently working out the community benefits package.) She said she opposes a process that would leave key decisions about these benefits unspecified.

As election day approaches, both candidates are making every effort to connect with voters. Over the past weekend, Hahn said she oversaw the delivery of more than 5,000 organic sugar snap pea plants to residents in District 5. The plants were grown at a friend’s home in Marin, and trucked over to Berkeley last week. From Friday through Sunday, Hahn coordinated delivery of the plants, along with a piece of campaign literature, to her constituents with the help of dozens of volunteers.

“It’s really symbolic of the fact that we really can be connected in our community,” she said. “We really can have renewal. And it’s symbolic also of the fact that I am willing to undertake ambitious things and get them done.”

Capitelli said he’s been pounding the pavement since July 6 to knock on every door in District 5. Walking two hours a day, five days a week, he said he’s lost 14 pounds and climbed 50- to 75,000 stairs. He’s on schedule to knock on the final door, of about 4,500, within the next 10 days. But a larger benefit, he said, is getting to connect with the community.

“The advantage of it is to be able to talk to people with incredibly diverse opinions,” he said. From global warming to free parking to the city’s Climate Action Plan, conversations have run the gamut. “I had to be able to think on my feet…. Most people have some connection to local issues. They do seem to appreciate having the opportunity to share their opinions with their local representative.”

The race for the District 5 seat has been the most contentious of the 2012 election season. Capitelli supporters say that in talks and conversations around town, Hahn has implied that Capitelli was in favor of the death penalty and not a strong supporter of women’s issues by referring to City Council votes on those issues from which Capitelli had abstained. Capitelli has said that Hahn is misinterpreting his voting record.

Voters will have at least two chances over the next week to hear more from both candidates. Sophie Hahn and Laurie Capitelli will take part in a candidate fair organized by the North East Berkeley Association on Thursday night, Oct. 11. The event begins at 6 p.m. and is followed at 7 p.m. with a Q&A with the candidates. Mayoral candidates also are expected to attend. Next Thursday, Oct. 18, at 8:45 p.m., Capitelli and Hahn also are scheduled to appear at a forum hosted by the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association.

Berkeley on course for $250,000 election [10.08.12]
Allegations fly in District 5 race [09.28.12]
Capitelli, Bates, lead in campaign fundraising [08.06.12]
Sophie Hahn announces candidacy for City Council [05.09.12]

Visit Voters Edge Berkeley, Berkeleyside’s non-partisan voting guide to the ten measures on the Berkeley ballot. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...